Vizquel ready to master a new field
Tigers' first-base coach has ultimate goal of managerial career
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Omar Vizquel was out on one of the back fields of the Tigertown complex on Tuesday, demonstrating an infield drill, then going over secondary leads on the basepaths. At some point, the realization hit Don Kelly.
"When he shows you something, it looks like he can still play," Kelly marveled. "He's still in great shape."
Vizquel, mind you, is 46, two years older than the manager under which he serves. He's barely more than a year removed from his 24-year Major League playing career. As he embarks upon his next chapter as first-base coach on Brad Ausmus' staff, the question shifts to how many years away is his managerial career.
That's the next goal, and he makes no secret of it. This is where it starts.
"I always wanted to manage after I retired, so obviously you've got to start somewhere," Vizquel said Tuesday. "This is a baby step towards becoming a manager, so I really have to absorb as much information as I can -- how to treat guys, how to handle different aspects of the game, the pitching and the outfielders and everything. I'm striding in the right direction right now."
Experience is what Vizquel hopes to get from this foray. The Tigers hope to get the benefit of his expertise on their infield.
Ten years ago, it was another club's judgment on Vizquel's ability to play that played an indirect part in the Tigers' rebuilding process. A failed physical in Seattle in December 2003 scuttled a trade that would have sent Vizquel to the Mariners and Carlos Guillen to Cleveland. A few weeks later, Guillen became a Tiger, and the rest is history.
Vizquel, then 36, went on to play nine more seasons before retiring in 2012 at age 45. Now that he's back in the big leagues, this time as a coach, he could play a more direct role in the Tigers' next All-Star shortstop. And the man who spent so many years beating up on the Tigers now could help mold their last piece to a World Series championship.
"I feel proud to wear it," Vizquel said of the Old English D, "because it's [the symbol of] a team that's been a winner for the last few years. It's a privilege to wear it."
Vizquel, however, sees a lot more to his role than mentoring young Jose Iglesias, regardless of the natural comparisons. When he discusses his responsibilities, he talks about a four-man infield functioning as one defensive group. It's a group that includes rookie third baseman Nick Castellanos returning to his old position from the outfield, an All-Star second baseman in Ian Kinsler who was once Vizquel's teammate, and a two-time MVP at first base, Miguel Cabrera, who grew up idolizing Vizquel as a shortstop.
He's taking on the challenge with the same work ethic that pushed him as a player. It's just a different skill set.
"My job now is a completely different thing than when I was a player," Vizquel said. "My job now is to instruct and to keep guys straight. It's not like a physical preparation now. The preparation has to go more towards the mental side, and how do I take care of four guys in the infield for them to click together. That's the main thing."
If the defense doesn't click, it won't be for lack of effort.
When the Tigers asked Vizquel to help Castellanos make the transition back to third base, he left home and visited Castellanos in south Florida to work with him on technique, hitting him a steady diet of ground balls while demonstrating approach.
"It was fun," Castellanos said. "He's very good at what he does, and he's really good at teaching it. So I was excited at the opportunity to learn from him as much as I can."
Castellanos' transition remains a priority for Vizquel.
"Even though he was a third baseman, there are a lot of things that he has to remember as an infielder," Vizquel said. "So I've been spending a lot of time with him in the field to kind of go through a lot of stuff. And he looks very athletic. He's a little better than what I saw when we worked in the offseason. He really has heard the instructions and he's working on that to become a better player, so I'm feeling pretty excited about that."
When Cabrera begins his early-morning workouts to get used to first base again, fielding ground balls, scooping throws out of the dirt and covering the bag, Vizquel will likely play a role in that, too. It's a neat opportunity for Cabrera, who wanted to mold his game after Vizquel when he was a teenage shortstop in Venezuela.
"It's unbelievable," Cabrera said. "I try to watch him and the way he talks to us, try to learn from him. It's a good experience because I never thought, I'm going to be next to Omar Vizquel, especially learn from him. I think that's an honor for me because we come from the same country and he's a big-time player in Venezuela.
"He was a hero for us, still a hero for us."